With the imminent launch of the new Ninja Turtles film in October 2014 there is likely to be a much greater interest in keeping turtles as pets.

There is little doubt that in the 1980s and 1990s the film and cartoon show sparked an upsurge in turtle sales which ended with many of those animals released into the wild after owners no longer felt able to keep them.

According to the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association (REPTA), the majority of turtles are sold in aquatic shops. We do not want a repeat of the situation following the last film so this time round we want to make sure our industry fully understands the issues facing it.

We believe this is an opportunity for responsible retailers to show their commitment to helping to tackle the issue of non-native species (sometimes called ‘invasives’) being released deliberately or escaping into the UK countryside.

If the industry acts irresponsibly and jumps on a short-term financial bandwagon, by selling large amounts of turtles in inappropriate sales, the long term effects to our industry will be huge. This is our opportunity to learn lessons from the past and prove that we are part of the solution, not just the problem.

So if you sell turtles in your shop we would urge you to:

  • Read REPTA’s position on the sale of turtles during October and beyond which outlines its moratorium position on turtle sales and has some useful advice on the types of turtles to avoid and why.
  • Remain vigilant for impulse buying or parents that seem to be succumbing to their children’s ‘pester power’ for a turtle pet following the film. Any purchase should be well-informed, well-researched and thoroughly planned.
  • Make sure all staff are fully trained and are aware of information sources to give to customers. In particular, you should make sure customers know about the size that turtles can grow to, the age they can reach and the characteristics of the turtle being sold so that they have a full picture of the commitment they’re taking on. This should be second nature to any good pet shop but it’s particularly important at this time. If appropriate, it might be worth planning a special staff training session before the film launch.
  • If you choose to make a sale, always make sure you give customers good quality follow-up care information to take away. You can find an information sheet here on terrapins (turtles) and there are also useful information here.
  • Be aware that this is exactly the kind of issue that attracts interest from animal welfare and animal rights groups. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that they will use mystery shopping techniques to catch out irresponsible retailers. If your staff are knowledgeable, informed and issue-aware then you should have nothing to fear but it’s always best to be prepared.

And if you do sell turtles in your shop, REPTA’s presentation contains some useful advice on the types of turtles that make more suitable pets, rather than the usual red-eared sliders and cooters which look likely to be banned from import, sale and possession in the forthcoming EU Alien Invasive Regulation. It also has some interesting information on Team Turtle, an initiative to build more turtle sanctuaries for unwanted pets that you might like to support.